Against all the odds in Chennai

After a sleepless night in Pondicherry celebrating New Year; it was time to wake up early and continue our itinerary. Next and final destination; Chennai. We arrived around midday and our tour guide was already waiting for us to take us to visit some Roman Catholic and British Anglican churches as well as some British monuments built during the occupation.

Unanimously  we decided to skip all of that for a few reasons:

Sabrina wanted to drive around Chennai in a Tuk Tuk. So Peter had no other choice than go with her. Unlike North India, the tuk tuk in Chennai have their own meters. So hilarious!

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Anna and me were so frustrated about the shopping experience in Pondicherry that we took the afternoon off and to took our revenge and walked to the nearest shopping mall; Spencer Plaza. “Nos salio el tiro por la culata” as we say in Spanish; “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It was a useless place very dirty, messy and dark; full of bazaars, souvenir stores, textiles and shoe shops. Vendors trying to encourage us to go and have a look inside their shops, men starring at us everywhere we went. We had enough. Actually shoe shops in India are very tempting because they have a huge range of styles, colors and sizes. Most of them are shiny with glittering bits all over; making your feet look elegantly painful. Children’s clothes are another matter, they are cute, colorful, stylish and very petite. Not sure how comfortable they are, but we bought two dresses for Sabrina. One dress survived, it is still in her wardrobe but the other passed to a better life while in India.

Regarding Charles; my father in law, he was feeling run down so he wanted to have a long nap before dinner time.

The itinerary was coming to it’s end. Thursday 2nd January it was nearly 6:00 am when somebody rang the bell of our room. It was Anna saying: Charles needs a doctor! first thing I thought was his heart but NO, it was his legs and feet, they were terribly swollen and reddish. He said he didn’t have any pain but he was feeling pretty tired. Even though we were quite concerned we were lucky at the same time because it was our last day in India. Next day we had to take a plane to New Delhi fairly early in the morning and from there to London. We asked the hotel to call a doctor and he came in the blink of an eye. Diagnosis: he got Cellulitis. Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. If you have a cut, sore, or insect bite, bacteria can get into the skin and spread to deeper tissues. We remember that Charles cut one of his toes in one of the temples and started to bleed a bit. Then we wrapped the wound with tissue paper and cleaned it with hand sanitizer. This might have been the cause, we will never know. Somewhat ironic! The doctor gave him some antibiotics and recommended him not to go anywhere on that day.

Sadly Charles missed the excursion to Mahabalipuram & Kanchipuram, 60 kms from Chennai (whole day sightseeing). Anna decided to stay with him and Sabrina too. I could see Sabrina was fed up with the driving and wanted to play the role of nurse. It was only me, Peter, the driver and the tour guide.

We visited first Kanchipuram, 72 km from Chennai. It is the old capital of the Pallava dynasty. There is not a lot to see here except for their impressive temples.

We went first to the Ekambareswarar Temple. This Shiva temple is one of the largest in the city. The temple’s name is said to derive from Eka Amra Nathar – Lord of the Mango tree and there is an old mango tree, with four branches representing the four vedas (sacred Hindu texts) on site. Of the five elemental temples of Shiva, this is the shrine of Earth. One of the legends says that the goodness Parvarti worshiped Shiva in the form of a Lingam made of sand under a mango tree. It is believed that the neighboring Vegavati river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Shiva Lingam and that Parvati embraced the Lingam. Shiva touched by the gesture materialized in person and married her. In this context he is referred to as Tazhuva kuzhainthaar (“He who melted in Her embrace”) in Tamil Nadu. There are other versions of the famous Mango Tree legend.

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3 1/2 thousand years old mango tree.

3 1/2 thousand years old mango tree.

Non-Hindus cannot see the mirror chamber, where worshippers enter with candles. But we were lucky because there were not many devotees on that day and the priest was pretty friendly with us. We even took pictures and video recorded it. Of course the tour guide said that the priest expected a donation; in fact they live by the donations. The central image of Shiva is reflected in the candlelight across the mirrored walls, creating countless images of the god that allude to his infinite presence. We were blessed by the priest in front of the Hindu goddesses, it was a moment of silence and I thought it was the perfect time to ask Lord Shiva for Charles’s quick recovery.

Entering to the mirror chamber…

After that, we visited tha Kailashanathar Temple; this is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram and the most impressive, not for its size but for its historical presence. Dedicated to Shiva, this temple was built by the Pallava king in the 7th Century. The low-slung sandstone compound contains a large number of carvings, including many half-animal deities which were popular during the early Dravidian architectural period. The temple’s foundations are made of granite, which could withstand the weight of the temple, while the super structure including the carvings are all made of sandstone.

Inner court or the circumambulatory passage with 58 sub shrines.

Inner court or the circumambulatory passage with 58 sub shrines.

Typical design of pillar with multi-directional mythical lions.

Typical design of pillar with multi-directional mythical lions.

The sculptures are fascinating representations of Shiva

Kailasanatha temple

Kailasanatha temple

Next destination: Mahabalipuram (Mahabalipuram)
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once a major seaport and second capital of the Pallava Kings. It is like a temple town where many people consider it to be one of the new seven wonders of the world and I totally agree. This group of monuments were carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous ‘Descent of the Ganges’, and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.

Ratha temples in the form of processional chariots, monolithic constructions cut into the residual blocks of diorite which emerge from the sand

Ratha temples in the form of processional chariots, monolithic constructions cut into the residual blocks of diorite which emerge from the sand

The notable cave temples mandapa, or rock sanctuaries modelled as rooms covered with bas-reliefs (the mandapa of Varaha, representing the acts of this avatar of Vishnu; the mandapa of the Five Pandavas and, especially, the mandapa of Krishna and the mandapa of Mahishasuramardini).

The notable cave temples mandapa, or rock sanctuaries modelled as rooms covered with bas-reliefs (the mandapa of Varaha, representing the acts of this avatar of Vishnu.

And this is undoubtedly the best piece of sculpture I have ever seen!

Sculptured scenes on open rocks

Sculptured scenes on open rocks

Another piece of architectural beauty is the Shore temple, located right on the shores of the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD.

The Tsunami of December 2004 that struck the coastline of Coromandel exposed an old collapsed temple built entirely of granite blocks. The Tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. This building has become eroded in time by the corrosive action of seawater and air and the sculptures have become indistinct.

Shore temple

Shore temple

Durga on a lion with small carved shrine

Durga on a lion with small carved shrine

Vishnu in a reclining pose.

Vishnu in a reclining pose.

Shore temple

These holes show how a rock is split apart. They make a hole, put a piece of wood into the hole, pour water over the wood and then as the wood expands the rock splits into two parts.

…and this is how our trip to South India culminates. The next day we had to board our plane from Chennai to New Delhi and from New Delhi to London. Charles was starting to recover slowly with the antibiotics but Peter started to feel sick… nothing serious though. Something you might expect in any trip to a developing country; the unavoidable travelers’ diarrhea. Thank God Sabrina didn’t have any problems except getting bored from time to time.

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